Your 10 Favorite Bar Bands

J. Geils Band

A few years ago, we published an article suggesting a few nominations for the yet-to-be-created Bar Band Hall of Fame. It seems a good time to add to our inaugural “class.”

We got the proverbial ball rolling by suggesting Rockpile, NRBQ and Los Lobos as charter members. Most of you concurred with those choices, though some suggested it’s an insult to slap the “bar band” label on such fine groups. Let’s be clear, we mean this as a very high compliment, since the best bar bands are flexible, unpretentious, skilled, funny and deeply versed in many musical styles. We also got lots of great suggestions for additional members of the BBHoF. Here are the top ten vote-getters, as it were, based on your comments:

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: These Jersey Boys have been rockin’ venues nationwide for decades. Though they never achieved the fame of their E Street neighbors, their fans are as loyal as they come. Jon Bon Jovi says Southside is his “reason for singing.”

J. Geils Band: Bluesy, earthy, funny, and tuneful, this Boston-based and Detroit-adopted outfit put on some legendary shows. Fans of rock harmonica need look no further.

The Beat Farmers: Their blend of Americana, country, roots rock, and pop fused into “cowpunk” under the inspired leadership of the late Country Dick Montana (who suffered a fatal heart attack on stage). Their first album, Tales of the New West, was produced by two-time Bar-Band-Hall-of-Famer, saxophonist Steve Berlin of The Blasters and Los Lobos.

Dr. Feelgood: A leading Pub Rock practitioner, the band reached its commercial apex in the ’70s with its British-flavoured R&B sound. Though no original members remain, a version of the band is still touring now. UK critic Nick Hasted wrote, “Feelgood are remembered in rock history…as John the Baptists to punk’s messiahs.”

The Good Rats: A classic regional powerhouse never quite cracked the big time but its blues-based classic rock sound seemed tailor-made for its time. The late frontman, Peppi Marchello, could handle a baseball bat as well as any major leaguer. Ever-loyal fans, especially on New York’s Long Island, still carry the torch.

George Thorogood and The Delaware Destroyers: “Three chords and the truth.” Need we say more? The perfect accompaniment to your bourbon, scotch or beer.

Graham Parker and The Rumour: Sprung from the same proverbial soil as Rockpile, Squeeze, Elvis Costello and other UK-based upstarts of the late 70’s, Parker’s arch humor would be at home at any bar or pub, worldwide.

The Blasters: The Alvin brothers brought juiced-up Americana to jukeboxes nationwide in the 80’s. Hard-charging, rootsy and tons of fun – they are indeed the perfect bar band.  As you’ll see from the clip below, these guys killed it live, as any self-respecting bar band would. Critic Mark Deming wrote, “the Blasters displayed a wide-ranging musical diversity [and] were a supremely tight and tasteful band with enough fire, smarts, and passion for two or three groups.” We’ll drink to that.

Brinsley Schwarz: The quintessential UK “Pub Rock” band bequeathed Nick Lowe to Rockpile, who brought some of its repertoire with him. Cross-pollinating even further, Brinsley Schwarz himself and keyboardist Bob Andrews later joined Graham Parker & the Rumour.

The Replacements: and The Smithereens: These great pop-punk bands round out the Top Ten (which now “goes to eleven”) earning their spot through immaculately composed, 3-minute bursts of pure energy.

So the Inaugural Class now stands at 14 members: our original 3 plus the 11 you added.

Actually, let’s make it 15. A few readers wisely noted that these four guys from Liverpool honed their chops playing marathon bar gigs in Hamburg and, later, at home. How could we not include them?

As with any list, we’ve surely omitted some worthy contenders – and made choices you might not share. Please keep the conversation going and suggest others we may have forgotten. Just be kind in your comments.


– Al Cattabiani

Photo Credits: Public domain image of J. Geils Band

Other Posts You Might Like

80 comments on “Your 10 Favorite Bar Bands

  1. G. E. Light

    Television. Just listen to the live document The Blow-up.

    Guided by Voices

  2. The (New Orleans) Radiators!

  3. Thanks for including the Good Rats.
    They were always a good time show.

  4. All on your list were great calls. Here a few adds:

    The Iron City Houserockers
    The Pirates (UK)
    Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers
    The Nighthawks

  5. I have no problem with these bands you could not have had a better night going to a great bar and having to much fun. You just missed one of the foremost bands Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen!

    • bill welcher


    • Harry Steinmetz

      There ain’t a whole lot of things that I ain’t done, but I’ve never been accused of having too much fun. – the Commander. So true.

      • 8tothebar

        Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen were so damn good! I could never have enough Commander!

  6. I saw Talking Heads in a small bar in Binghamton, NY, in ’77 and they were awfully good. NRBQ played the same bar around the same time and they were equally good even if the place was far less populated…

  7. Scott Williams

    Scruffy the Cat, they used to tear it up.

  8. I must have seen the Smithereens 25 times at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick. Some nights the place was jammed, other nights it was no more than 5 people. Whether the house was packed or not, they really rocked.

  9. John Moore

    The Bronx and Jersey Shore had the Lynch
    Boys back in the 70s. Always a good time.

  10. Pasadena,had two celebrated bar bands…Van Halen in their nascent stage, known as Mammoth and the hometown all-stars Snotty Scotty and the Hankies…we just lost Scott Finnell to cancer earlier this month.

  11. Can’t argue with any of this, but how is NRBQ not on this list?

    The New Yorker once said of them: “People are of two minds about NRBQ. There are those who say they are the greatest band ever, and there are those who have not seen them yet.”

  12. I’d add the Georgia Satellites, or really any band with Dan Baird out in front.

  13. The Reducers, a great bar band from New London,CT! They always had the best shows!

  14. Ian Dury & The Blockheads

  15. It may be a New England thing, but John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band tore it up as well, and still do!

  16. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band

  17. Fazool Maldonado

    So it’s Southside Johnny’s fault that Bon Jovi sings. #bastard

  18. Lucelle O'Flaherty

    My sister and I never miss a Southside Johnny Concert at The Birchmere (Alexandeia, Va) every July and December. They are truly amazing and such a good time.
    Order a copy of Soul Time, their newest album.

    • I saw SSJ and the Jukes last night at The Rams Head in Annapolis. They’re in fantastic form. Enjoy the show tonight!!

  19. Don’ t forget John Eddie. Listen to his song PLAY SOME SKYNYRD .

  20. The Good Rats???? But you don’t have the Iron City Houserockers???? Seen them both and on the same stage. The Houserockers blew them away.

  21. William Wellek

    C’mon…you missed the most obvious one! Rolling Stone at one time voted The Iron City Houserockers as the best bar band at one point in time. Their classic Have A Good Time…But Get Out Alive is one of the BEST pure bar band sounding albums of all time. Not to mention that lead Joe Grushecky is good friends with Bruce Springsteen.

  22. Bill Kirchen

    Webb Wilder

  23. Skeeb Wilcox

    Eddie & The Hot Rods
    Ducks DeLuxe
    The Iron City Houserockers
    The Radiators
    And probably most importantly: The Velvet Underground

  24. The Skeletons

  25. Billy O'Bong

    Southern Culture on the Skids!

  26. The Nerds

  27. Awesome. This list really sounds like the soundtrack of my life. Even coming from as far away as Finland I can’t believe how many of these bands I’ve had the fortune to see live (yes, I’m an old fart). The coolest thing happened to me in a faraway-hole called Le Locle, in the Swiss mountains, a couple of weeks ago. I got the chance to talk to Graham Parker! I have his pick, and it will live in my wallet for the rest of my life. But most of all… he told me the story behind “the harridan of yore”. In these troubled USA-election times, it made the hairs on my back stand up. What a hero…

  28. … oh, and by the way. The greatest bar band is ANY band with David Johansen in it.

  29. Levon and the Hawks

  30. Saw several of these fine bands back in the day but for my money best bar band show was Beaver Brown on a hot summer night. Saw them at Toads Place in New Haven one night in ’78 and in walks the E Street Band…Bruce got onstage and of course they tore it up.

    Another to tip the hat (and jar) to would be Duke and the Drivers.

  31. John Murphy

    Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers!

  32. Keith Hubbard

    The Radiators. The Cate Brothers Roomful of Blues, Delbert McClinton

  33. Georgia Bands: Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, The BITERS, Mudcat w/ The Atlanta Horns, Zydefunk and the the now sadly defunct Truckadelic and The Booze.

    • John Smistad

      Love “Drivin’ n’ Cryin”. Saw ’em live in a Seattle bar. Invigorating!

  34. Can’t forget The Fleshtones and The Woggles!!

  35. A few West Mass legends. Fat, Clean Living, Mitch Chakour and the Mission Band

  36. Dirk Johns

    The David Bromberg Band was a great take in the 70s and 80s!

    • Dave Walker

      And are still great. David still plays solo, as a quartet, quintet and with his Big Band.

  37. Mike Scully

    This hall of fame should exist! I will donate! NRBQ, Southside Johnny, James Montgomery Band, James Cotton Band, The Fabulous Rhinestones, Widespread Depression, Drive By Truckers, Rockpile, The Pirates, Roomful of Blues, Good Rats, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Alejandro Escovedo, Buddy Guy, J. Geils (who should be in R&R Hall of Fame), Sea Level, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, Mitch Chakour and the Mission Band, Incredible Casuals, The Fools, Rick Derringer, Iron City Houserockers, Blasters, Morphine, Flamin’ Groovies, Radiators… I lean toward East and West Coast, but I know I’m missing some great bands in between. Only disagreement with previous suggestions: Beaver Brown. Should have been a Bruce cover band.

    • All great choices. Thanks so much. We’ll invite you to the opening! 🙂

    • Andrzej Warminski

      Good choices. And from way back in the late 80s and into the 90s: Dion Payton and the 43rd Street Blues Band. If I could have, I would have gone every night to Kingston Mines to hear them–and stay til 4AM.

  38. Flamin’ Groovies

  39. The Bottle Rockets, The Mekons, The Real Kids

  40. Cats on smooth surface,Holme,The Grease band ,Twisted Sister,SSJ,The Good Rats ,Willie Nile

  41. Sportcoupe

    Cowboy Mouth

  42. Henry Spicer

    Lot of great bands listed and so glad that the legendary Southside Johnny is noted but like many have commented–the Iron City Housreockers deserve to be on this list…shit, they should make a movie about these guys for how close they were to gold.

  43. In Jersey…In the 80’s….It was Kinderhook all the way.

  44. From Hudson valley ny. Twisted sister, Joe Jackson, Todd rundgren, good rats, pat benetar, white river monster, D.C. Star, David Johansson, all played at good times cafe in poughkeepsie!

  45. james cox

    Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, The Cathay de Grande, Hollywood, CA mid -eighties. KIng Cotton Blues Band. Dwight Yoakum.

  46. Bill Varley

    If you include rwisted sister how about Aother Pretty Face

  47. No love for the Young Fresh Fellows?

  48. Joe Youngs‌

    Black 47

  49. Mink deVille

  50. I’d vote in Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, Blotto, and Beaver Brown. All went well with alcohol!

  51. NRBQ!!!!

  52. Andrew Olsen

    It’s already been determined that Cammander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen were the best bar band of all time, sorry folks.

  53. Old 97s.

  54. I don’t know how a discussion of bar bands could pass over NRBQ. What happened?

  55. Lamont Cranston, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Duke Tomato ( All Star Frogs or Power Trio versions), Hoopsnakes, Mission Mountain Wood Band, Daisy Dillman,

  56. Jim Bobus

    The Faces were the absolute loosest band I’ve ever seen. They seemed like they were always hammered but boy did they put on a great show! It’s a shame they only lasted 4 years because Rod left them to pursue a solo career.

  57. Don’t forget Blotto! Don’t forget The Dictators!!! The only bands who would show up at Kelties and Banksville. Iron City House rockers, who never got played by the NYC stations. LOL and the Fugs!!!

  58. Les Fender

    Maybe the Spongetones?

  59. NRBQ is #1 for me. Saw them a bunch of times in New Haven in the 70s. Unhinged fun in a small room. Their recordings never could capture it.

  60. el-c smith

    well here are some Canadian bands that could go toe to toe with the bands that have been listed here.The Mandala,David Clayton Thomas and The Shays and The Lincolns .All came out of Toronto .eh! ,l.c smith gibsons b.c. canada

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)